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Chronological Reasoning and Causation

Who was Lyman Epps?

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Expansion and Reform (1801 - 1861)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Comprehension

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary

  • Topics:

    African Americans
    Civil Rights

  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    North Country
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Lyman Epps of North Elba Dead. Elizabethtown Post, 1 April 1897, p. 1. in Main Image Viewer
  2. Load Lyman Epps of North Elba Dead. Elizabethtown Post, 1 April 1897, p. 1. in Main Image Viewer
  3. Load Lyman Epps Sr. in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Title: Who was Lyman Epps and how did he build a life in North Elba, NY. 

Historical Context: Timbuctoo is deep in the land of the Adirondack Mountains in North Elba. This mountain range is synonymous with rough weather and tough terrain. After New York State passed a law requiring African American men to posess $250 in real estate in order to vote, Gerrit Smith divided up his 120,000 acres into 40 acre lots and began inviting African American families to live and farm on his land. Gerrit Smith was a very wealthy land owner who invited roughly 3,000 African Americans to come and work on his 40 acre plots where these families could have new oportunities. Lyman Epps became the most well known and successful settler in Timbuctoo.

Overview: Students will use primary source documents (photographs) to gain information about Lyman Epps.  Use of primary source documents can enhance student understanding of a historical time period. Primary sources provide windows into the daily lives of individuals living in the past. 

Goal: Students will learn how photographs can be a useful tool for historians and will use them to piece together the story of Lyman Epps and his contributions to the Adirondacks. 


Students will be able to:

  • Understand that primary source documents can help us understand people, places, and events from the past.

  • Examine primary source documents in search of clues to help them understand more about Lyman Epp’s life in the Adirondacks. 

  • Use evidence to interpret objects and make predictions.

Investigative (Compelling) Question:

How can primary source documents (photographs) help us learn about Lyman Epps’ life in the Adirondacks?

Time Required

  • 1- 40 minute session or 2- 20 minute sessions

Recommended Grade Range

  • Grades 3-5 

Subject: Social Studies and English Language Arts 


Gathering, Interpreting and Using Evidence:

Recognize and use different forms of evidence to make meaning in social studies (including primary and secondary sources, such as art and photographs, artifacts, oral histories, maps, and graphs).

Speaking and listening

Participate and engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions with diverse peers and adults, expressing ideas clearly, and building on those of 

Credits: Patricia McCormick 


Materials Used: 

          Projector to display photographs

       Resources Used: 


Description of Procedure: 

The teacher will provide background information about Timbuctoo and tell students they will be learning as much as they can about a man named Lyman Epps by looking at primary sources.  Many people  have been doing this work and making discoveries already, historians have discovered objects and documents and continue to search.  Teacher will display the photograph of Lyman Epps Sr.   on the projector

and students will use the worksheet:   to guide their learning. 

  • Teacher will prompt students with: What we think/Why we think that (evidence)/What we are still wondering.   

  •  Following a thorough discussion, the teacher will present Lyman Epps’ death notice as another primary source document. Lyman Epps death notice.pdf

Have students partner up and examine the death notice. Students will use the recording sheet to document their observations. Recording sheet - Lyman Epps' obituary

 What we think/Why we think that (evidence)/What we are still wondering. Have students keep in mind the information that they already learned about Lyman Epps.   After a short work period (10–15 minutes), call students back to the rug for a whole group discussion. Discuss information students gleaned from the obituary.  What new information did they learn about Lyman Epps?


Students can design a museum exhibit or a memorial for Lyman Epps  

The next lesson could be using a census as a primary source document to learn additional information about Lyman Epps. 


Students respond to the questions: 

What were you able to learn about Lyman Epps by examining the primary source documents? 

What would you want to teach others about him?